Lifelong Tradition Keeps Fresno Senior Going Full Steam Ahead

Charles Betts, a resident of the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, has remained active in his lifelong hobby of building model trains. I would be happy to set up an interview for you if you are interested in running a story about him.
By: Morgan Schaeffer
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The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens Resident Has Built Model Trains Since Childhood  

FRESNO, Calif.: On most residents’ patios at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, you might find the expected set-up of a table and chairs and perhaps some plants or wind chimes. But Charles Betts’ patio is enclosed with bamboo blinds and features a somewhat untraditional accessory: a detailed, two-control panel, electric model train set, which he designed himself and built to scale over the course of several months. He set up his back porch to block out wind and rain, and installed a light so he can continue his favorite hobby even after the sun goes down. The two-year resident of the Fresno senior living community spends up to six hours a day with his trains – planning, building and, of course, playing.

“I was six years old when my father got me started with trains,” said Charles. “That’s when I got my first Lionel train and it’s been my hobby ever since.” Following military service, a career in drafting and fabrication, and raising a family, Charles’ sets became more elaborate, at times travelling around his apartment.  This year, Charles hopes to continue a holiday tradition that began when he was a boy.

“Having a Lionel electronic train set around the Christmas tree – that made Christmas for me,” said Charles, reflecting on his childhood. “Over the years, I’ve continued that tradition with my family.”

Charles isn’t the only person in his family with a love of trains. Each of his four sons helped build displays when they were younger, and Charles’ grandson won Best of Show at the Madera Fair when he was 13 years old. For Charles, it’s a hobby built on tradition, but it’s also a way to keep his mind sharp as he constantly makes changes and improvements to his sets.

“Even when I’m not working on them, I’m always thinking about ways to make a more functional railroad. It really fulfills my imagination and I love seeing what I can accomplish,” he said.

Charles’ hobby is just one way older adults are staying active at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens. The community also offers exercise classes, continuing education, musical performances, and an extensive schedule of social, creative and intellectual opportunities.

“Residents are free from daily maintenance and everyday hassles, so there’s a lot of time to get involved and take part in our wide variety of activities designed to promote health and wellness of both body and mind,” said Jessica Lopez, executive director for The Terraces. “We also encourage residents to create their own activities, and it’s great to see Mr. Betts is doing that in a big way!”

Charles’ future railroad plans include installing chips into the trains in order to operate them with a hand-held remote control.

The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens is committed to enriching the lives of older adults. For more than 40 years, the community, located at 5555 North Fresno Street, has delivered one of the most engaging lifestyles in the area. In addition to residential living, the community offers residents access to a full continuum of on-site assisted living, memory support and skilled nursing. For more information about The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, call (559) 435-1999 or visit

The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens in Fresno, California, is managed by ABHOW, a California nonprofit public benefit corporation. ABHOW is a nonsectarian corporation, serving seniors through quality retirement housing since 1949. A licensing application for Phase II has been filed with and approved by the Department of Social Services of the State of California. State of California License #100400544, #040000142. Certificate of Authority #102.
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Tags:Seniors, Retirement, Trains, Christmas, Family
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